Chinese experts overwhelmingly optimistic about phase one deal

Graphics: GT

Graphics: GT

Despite a serious escalation in diplomatic tensions between China and the US over Hong Kong affairs, Chinese experts remain overwhelmingly optimistic that Beijing and Washington can still reach a phase one trade agreement, a new Global Times survey showed on Sunday.

Though a vast majority of 25 prominent experts with close ties to the Chinese government said there is a greater than 50 percent chance for the two sides to reach a phase one deal, they are split over whether that will happen before the end of the year.

Among the 25 experts surveyed, 22 said that the possibility for reaching a phase one trade agreement is greater than 50 percent. Only two experts said that the possibility is less than 50 percent.

However, only nine experts said that a deal could be reached before the New Year, while seven think the deal will come after the New Year. Others noted that it was hard to predict when a deal could be reached.

Still, the result is striking given the worsening environment surrounding the negotiations and clear divide between the two countries over some sticking points, including removal of tariffs and agricultural purchases. 

Workers unload bags of chemicals at a port in Zhangjiagang, East China‘s Jiangsu Province in August 2018. Photo: VCG

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On Thursday, fresh optimism for a phase one deal emerging from a phone call between chief negotiators, who agreed to continue to address remaining issues for the deal, was overshadowed by US President Donald Trump‘s decision to sign into law two bills that pave the way for the US to directly interfere with China‘s internal affairs in Hong Kong. China mounted a furious response to the move and warned of countermeasures.

However, the survey showed that there is still path forward despite the souring diplomatic ties, mainly because both sides want a phase one deal to start to resolve the longstanding, increasingly bruising trade war, experts said. 

“There is no doubt that China has always wanted a [trade deal], the hurdle is the US. But now I think the US also needs a trade agreement,” Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University of China‘s School of International Studies, told the Global Times, noting that there is a greater than 50 percent chance for a phase one deal to be reached.

Jin said that the US has no “energy” to fight the trade war with China with the 2020 election and Trump needs a win in foreign policy after a series of failures in policies toward , Iran, Syria and Ukraine. “He has no achievements in diplomacy right now,” he said.

The Global Times survey also came as Chinese officials appear to have left the door open for negotiations for a phase one deal. Asked about the impact of Trump‘s signing of the Hong Kong bills on the trade talks, Gao Feng, a spokesperson for the Chinese Commerce Ministry, did not rule out further talks and pointed to the phone call between the chief negotiators on Tuesday. 


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